Could your tax refund be stolen?
Are you ready for tax season? If you haven’t heard about tax identity theft, you may not be.
“The first time we heard about tax identity theft was when we got a letter from the IRS,” said Jeff F., long-time Truity member. “The letter stated a tax return had been filed in our name, and they didn’t think it was us.”
Jeff brings up a very important point: If the IRS needs information from you, it will first contact you by mail. It will NOT contact you by email, text or social media. Jeff called the IRS number in the letter right away to verify that he and his wife hadn’t filed their taxes yet.
Tax identity theft happens when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft has been the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the past five years.
No one likes to receive a letter from the IRS. “We responded to the letter quickly,” Jeff continued. “I think the IRS safeguards stopped us from getting into worse trouble.”
Tax identity thieves can get your personal information in many ways. For example:
- Someone goes through your trash or steals mail from your home or car.
- Imposters send phony emails that look like they’re from the IRS and ask for personal information.
- Employees at hospitals, nursing homes and other businesses steal your information.
- Businesses that have your information are hacked.
- Phony or dishonest tax preparers misuse their clients’ information or pass it along to identity thieves.
What can you do about it? Here are some tips to lessen the chance you’ll be a victim:
- Remember: the IRS won’t contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, you will be contacted by mail first.
- File your tax return early in the tax season, if you can, before identity thieves do.
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically. Don’t use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like coffee shops or a hotel lobby.
- Mail your tax return directly from the post office.
- Shred copies of your tax return, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need.
- Don’t give out your Social Security number (SSN) or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used and how it will be stored.
- Get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.
- If your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.
- Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
What if you are a victim?
Like Jeff, tax identity theft victims typically find out about the crime when they get a letter from the IRS. If you get a letter like this, don’t panic. “We called the IRS number on the letter right away to verify that we hadn’t filed our taxes yet,” said Jeff. “Then we followed their checklist to alert credit bureaus and the FTC, too.” The IRS has a department specifically for tax fraud, the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, and you can call them at 800-908-4490. More information about tax identity theft is available from the FTC at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft.
If you have Truity’s Identity Checking or Advantage Checking account and suspect you may be a victim of identity theft of any kind, call the credit union and a personal Recovery Advocate will be assigned to you to complete the recover work on your behalf, no matter how long it takes.
“Remember to notify the state—a false return was filed with our state, too,” said Jeff.
Watch out for imposters
Unfortunately, tax identity theft isn’t the only way scammers are targeting taxpayers. The FTC has received thousands of complaints about IRS imposters who claim people owe unpaid taxes and will be arrested if they don’t pay up. They may know all or part of your Social Security number and rig caller ID to make it look like it’s really the IRS calling. Before you can investigate, you’re told to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the number – something no government agency would ask you to do.
If you owe (or think you owe) federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by postal mail, not by phone. Report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484.
If you think you have been a victim of identity theft or fraud of any kind, we can help. Call Truity at 800,897.6991.